I am very angry, so I am adding my voice to the myriad of songs sung by women who have been vilified for their sexual behaviour. My voice, like many others that have cried against this objectification of women, will probably be tossed aside, but I still will not desist from speaking. My narrative analysis of the presentation of women in the war, as presented by the state media, is my personal contribution to the battle against misogyny and sexist representation of women in the media the world over.
The Misogynist Representation of Joice Mujuru in The Sunday Mail
A lead headline in The Sunday Mail read ‘Dr Joice Mujuru unmasked’. The article attempted to reveal (excuse the pun) that a truth lies behind the façade she presents to the public. An ambiguos by-line was used as a deliberate syntagm in the narrative, as the speaker becomes faceless, so to speak. This is one of the common traits of sexual abuse, whereby the survivor is the one who is revealed to the community, yet the abuser’s identity is protected. In this case, the author is protected as they attack on Mujuru’s personal and sexual history.
The introduction of the story was centred on the idea that Mujuru’s rise during the war is credited to her romantic liaisons. This narrative trait has become common, especially when media report on women in politics in Africa and the rest of the world. It is as if the vagina, not ability or qualification, is the passport for a woman to rise to power!
On the same issue, Alex Magaisa highlights that women in politics are faced with so many detours and roadblocks such as the one being perpetuated in the state press, and that this is not only hitting below the belt, but it is feeding the nation with anecdotes that are a direct attack on the progression of women.
The True War Narrative of Teenage Girls
Also revealed in the narrative was that chimbwidos were teenage girls who, in addition to running errands and cooking for freedom fighters, would provide sexual favours. One of my mother’s maids shared war stories with me when I was growing up. She told me that she did not know the father of her son, because as a chimbwido, they were required to be intimate with various soldiers. I might have not fully grasped the issue then but looking back, I realise teenage girls were ‘legally sexually abused’ in the war! Therefore, I do not understand how in this day and age state press fails to realise that this is what could have happened to chimbwido Joice, and to many other women in undocumented cases that happened in the war! We shouldn’t accept the rewriting of history which allows the victim to be vilified, thus short changing a healing process for the nation, all in the name of politics.
My Body, My Shame.
Joice is portrayed in this story as a ‘lazy girl’ who had to be carried on a stretcher as she had ‘a big body’. Yet again, the female form has been objectified, and a big bodied woman has been stereotyped ‘lazy’. Seriously? When it comes to male politicians in Zimbabwean’s historical and modern politics, their body sizes and weight are never at any point used as a negation of their victories. Again, what could have been a traumatic event for teenage Joice, being excavated on a stretcher after a bomb blast, was belittled down to character. Women’s bodies are often used as measure of who they are and what they should and should not do.
A Story of Convenience
What I find strange is that in this story, the ‘fat’, ‘lazy’, ‘promiscuous’ woman’has been named. The men who she apparently had ‘killed’ are also named but dead. Cde George Rutanhire, the source of the story who seems to be known in the Zanu Pf circles, presumably had this story all along but decides to share it 36 years later when all men in question are dead. How convenient?
In the narrative, the protagonist is missing from the story-line, and the focus is only on the female antagonist. It is as if the woman, like the dead, are deliberately named because they can not defend themselves. Such an imbalance in the story line is as a result of failed attempts to portray the woman as the ‘witch’ in the story which has no climax or conclusion.
According to Propp (1968) a narrative consists of a hero, villain, conflict, journey and triumph, thus making the readers feel good and align themselves to the hero. Taking this into consideration, this narrative therefore fails to be news worthy. It’s a smear campaign. A sexist one for that matter. Again the media is using gender stereotypes as tools for political gain.
The author is oblivious to the full impact of their work which continues to trivialise the issue of women’s sexual abuse in the war. They are reinforcing gender stereotypes, and they are elevating sexism and patriarchy. This is retrogressive because the end result is discouraged women in society, who are afraid to speak out and participate in politics.
Women have a right to privacy and to be respected. It is about time that is afforded to them.
Written by Samantha Tatenda Majoni, a media and communication professional who enjoys analysing society through the mediated lens
Main image taken from www.care2.com